Multiplying Content to Accelerate Inbound Traffic

Content marketing is all the rage.  It should be. Its influence is well documented and as a result, it has spawned a new industry of marketing experts and professionals.

But how does a resource strapped enterprise capitalize on the need for more search optimized content and growing consumption habits? By capitalizing on existing, effective content, and converting it into many other forms.  Repurposing original content is a common recommendation. The result?

  1. Consistency of message for audience
  2. Content that conforms to multiple user consumption preferences and learning styles
  3. Creation of social media content kits
  4. Improved analytic reporting and consumption assessment
  5. Improved editorial coordination
  6. Ease of management
  7. More scalable content development projects
  8. Increase in content back-links, and URLs to related content
  9. Reduced cost of creation;
  10. Exponential volume of search optimized, quality content across the web
  11. Greater awareness across the marketing & communications group of content and messaging
  12. Increased qualified inbound prospects

If your website is well optimized for lead generation, increased traffic and engagement translates into more qualified leads, a percentage of which convert into sales.

Content Magnification

How many content items can be created from a single source? A LOT.

Take for example a your white paper.  The primary information source is the SME, who provides the key customer value propositions to a writer or your marcom team, who are then tasked with the project of creating a compelling, consumable information source describing why your prospect should consider buying from you.  In years past, it was a print document, today it is digital – probably a PDF.

This is a historical and well defined exercise that has been practiced for decades.  This was well suited for brick and mortar business, but falls short in today’s digital economy.  But the question before us is not about creating the source content (which is another important process to be considered), but how many ways can it be leveraged for digital consumption.  Content marketing is a beast, and it is hungry.

Why do we feed it? Because your prospects are hungry for information and your content is marketing currency. Currency that has an exchange rate that converts into qualified web traffic and web traffic into leads for sales. It is an ecosystem.

What does the content marketing beast consume? Can we feed it?  Repurposing existing material is a beginning to reach prospects beyond the document. Here a starter list of what can be generated directly from the initial collateral:

  1. Web content
  2. Landing pages
  3. Webinars
  4. Online presentations
  5. Video
  6. Audio Podcasts
  7. Social media (tweets, blogs, commentary)
  8. Promotions and campaigns
  9. Direct mail & newsletters
  10. PPT speaker notes
  11. Press & analyst resources
  12. Translated content resources for regional teams and audiences

Repurposing your best material can certainly generate all this, but it can also be done concurrently and by design, which is the idea behind “content engineering”.  It’s easier than you might imagine.  Is it necessary? After all, the collateral is produced and available, but it’s not enough, not today.  A single document with your well-conceived and developed value proposition is not enough. A new approach to magnifying content is beyond important.  It’s essential.

Context, Urgency and The Lizard Brain

I wanted to share this post from Harvard Business Review, written by Tim Riesterer.  What initially “engaged” me was a great headline: Stimulate Your Customer’s Lizard Brain to Make a Sale.  Points for Tim; the title stopped me immediately.  It made me act.  Just like Tim intended.

“The lizard brain” is a phrase first introduced to me by Seth Godin who defines it as “hungry, scared, angry, and horny.” It is primal.  It cares what everyone else thinks and is the source of resistance to change.  It is our autopilot, its sole purpose is to survive and it embraces status quo.  The lizard brain is afraid of change; change is not safe.

The core premise of Riesterer’s message is that to be successful, marketing and sales must overcome a prospect’s primal resistance to change, but that most focus on the wrong message.

Any message designed to change behavior must create a compelling sense of urgency.  It must change the perception of the survival instinct, to convince it that change is now safer than the status quo.

Riesterer cites several research findings in his analysis:

  • The Sales Benchmark Index – “nearly 60% of qualified leads fall victim to the status quo.” While most marketers and salespeople believe they are selling against the competition, they fail to see the most important competitor – the status quo.
  • Forrester Research found that 65% of high-level decision makers give their business to vendors that create the “buying vision”
  • Executives want vendors to tell them something they don’t already know about a problem or opportunity.  Instead, most only talk about themselves.

In complex B2B marketing and sales, decision makers need companies to be consultative. Vendors who provide experience, vision, and insight into increasingly complex business challenges are the ones that offer true value to the role of any decision maker.

The tendency of companies to talk mostly about themselves is a messaging problem pervasive in B2B marketing.  For internal marketing groups in particular, it is safe lizard brain behavior.  After all, every organization embraces the message about how well their solutions perform.  Drink the Kool-Aid, share the Kool-Aid.

The digital world is in hyper-drive competing for our attention.  Messaging must instantly capture attention and hold it.  Which means the message must have meaning and context for your target audience.  Know them; speak to their business needs in their terms. Create urgency and communicate a vision for change and proof points that trump the evil status quo.

Don’t get me wrong; status quo can be a great thing.  My wife, my kids and my friends – those are the parts of status quo that I wish I could preserve in perpetuity.  In business, marketing and sales, status quo is dangerous. As a marketer and content strategist, I hate “status quo.” It is lethal.

Please share your own thoughts and experiences.

Old Habits are Hard to Break

Change is hard.  “An A+ for stating the obvious” you are thinking to yourself?

B2B marketing is stuck in “old ways”.   Like any generalization, there are exceptions, but they remain the minority.   I’ll explain.

Business thrives on process.  From process comes efficiency, which is a critical element of success.  Consider FedEx and the UPS.  Process is their competitive advantage and they have embraced new techniques, structures and core processes to capitalize on fundamental shifts in technology, audience needs and service models. They are winning big because of it.

Process is key to efficiency but a process based on an old set of rules is disaster.  In many ways this is the status of B2B marketing.

Marketing is about message, content and audience reach.  B2B is adapting to the audience reach part of the model.  But it needs deeper analysis.  Marketing has not adapted to the message and content processes required to truly capitalize on new distribution models and audience consumption preferences.

The Internet and “digital” has forever changed how buyers evaluate and make purchase decisions.  In response, Marketing no longer prints collateral but publishes PDF’s on their websites. Many have adopted “marketing automation” tools to leverage their database.  Some discovered video, audio podcasts, eBooks.   The list goes on.

Communications teams are blogging and tweeting all day long to capitalize on the power of social media.  Many new tools, formats and media are being used, all powerful and with tremendous reach.

But here’s the thing.  Few marketing and communications teams are working together to consider the synergy of each effort, or the content required to support each channel.  The  activities are related and inter-dependent upon each other, though they are often not executed as such.

Engagement is the new buzzword in marketing. Engage with customers, prospects, and partners.  “We need to engage online.  Establish a conversation.”  But for many organizations the teams responsible for customer engagement are not truly engaged with each other.  They talk, have meetings and conference calls, but they are not engaged.  Why?

Old habits. The approach to content creation, communication, and the structure of organizations has not evolved. B2B has historically undervalued creative, message and content, and they have not yet recognized the need to adapt the process of creating content.  One team creates collateral, another press and media communications, and a third owns marketing automation. Other teams own the web, video, and training.  Each is focused set of deliverables but not the coordination or relationships of the messages they are delivering.

Unless co-developed, creating a PDF whitepaper to publish on the web and writing a blog post for LinkedIn, without a strategy to leverage their inter-dependencies is not a new approach, just a new distribution method.

Would love to hear your own opinions on this.

Content Engineering

I’d like to be able to claim that I coined the phrase “Content Engineering.”   I can’t.  I do find myself using it a lot lately though.  I don’t know where I first saw it or I would give credit where it is due.

Curious by nature, I googled it the other day and was surprised by the number of results.  Wikipedia defines content engineering as “a term applied to an engineering specialty dealing with the issues around the use of content in computer-facilitated environments.”  Not exactly consistent with how I’m using the term.  Another listing (Brockmann & Company) defines it as the discipline of developing content that greatly improves the rankings of the target site and thereby returns a higher result.  Still a fairly technical, application based definition.  The best one I found was from Content Marketing Institute which defined the term in an article titled “A New Breed? 7 Roles of the Content Marketing “Engineer”  which defines the content engineer as “a marketer who creates and optimizes the many forms of content required to engage social customers, based on the data presented by available analysis tools.” Since the query returned a result of about 1,020,000,000, I stopped there.  I’m not that curious, but none of what I did review matched my current interpretation.

So how do I define it? Content Engineering is a strategic collaborative approach to marketing content creation that considers the goals of the message, the channels and media options available for publishing and distribution.  Content is designed to fulfill a varied set of communication requirements and objectives, audience targets, media choices, scope, calls to action, scalability and potential delivery mechanisms.  It is an orchestrated process that occurs over time.  Minimal waste, no duplication of effort, not one and done but a content opera which is measured for effectiveness and refinement.

Content marketing is relatively new and evolving.  I’ll probably be curious enough to return to my definition soon to see if it still fits.  I’m sure it will likewise evolve.

What Does the New B2B Marketing Organization Look Like?

I recently wrote a blog post that suggests addressing the question that has been debated over the past couple years: Who Who should own Social Media – Communications or Marketing? I conclude that it is in fact, the wrong question. 

The correct question is this – How should enterprise marketing structures, strategies and processes adapt to the content demands of social media and new rules for audience engagement, enabled by ubiquitous information and all things digital – the web, social media, search engines, etc?

So what does this new approach look like?  It is an ecosystem, organized around a common mission, message set and strategic deliverables. It is holistic in approach based on top-down marketing and communications strategy, digitally focused with scale, consistency and repetition as a cornerstone objective.  It recognizes that content is marketing currency which must be invested, managed, nurtured and measured for performance (just as the business manages other assets – pipeline, ERP, operations, finance).  It also demands a renewed focus on creativity, not only in how we craft compelling messages, but creative in how and where we deliver those messages.

To support B2B social media, marketing departments must work together and across sub-groups as a team, not in silos. The traditional marketing structure fostered discrete approaches and deliverables.  It is perhaps this very approach that bred the original question of ownership.

While every effective program requires a manager and owner, marketing as a whole must own responsibility for supporting, enabling and planning the execution of targeted social media activities. Social media teams, be they cross-functional or dedicated, will be enabled by content derivatives of existing marketing message programs and projects.

Consider for a moment a writer staring at a starkly empty page, tasked with delivering a story or message but not knowing where to start. Intimidating. And, time consuming.  Yet this is the reality for many social media contributors. What if however, there was a social media toolkit, a central repository of content that marketing assembles in support of current messages and programs? What if that lonely writer could reach into the toolkit and grab a topic that has been prepared, give it a voice, perspective and then publish to one (or more) of the predefined strategic media targets?   Tweets, blogs, opinions, all can be prepared and nurtured thru the repurposing of existing content and delivered as a component of every new project.

Each content project can be viewed as an opportunity to support social media and digital channels with new source material. Every document and video can be parsed into small consumable bits and bytes that can be ‘socialized’. This unified approach will not only provide social media contributors with a rich source of topics and content that will make execution much easier, but will also provide a foundation for consistency of voice and message.

Managed properly, every enterprise contributor can have access to source content, with predefined target objectives, back-links, calls to action and strategy supporting an overall editorial program.  It can be syndicated to the business partner communities.  Regional marketing teams can translate and publish in local languages.  All of this expands the digital presence, thought leadership, the base of long-tail keywords and increases the volume of qualified, inbound traffic to your website. It is also much more efficient to execute.

So how is this dilemma resolved? By thinking differently about how business marketing operates as a team.

B2B marketing can no longer be “one and done”.  The press release, another email offer, a new whitepaper or brochure, conceived, created, managed separately and thrown at the web team to “post” without continuity to all other activities will at best, fall short of its potential.  In the real mission of marketing and communications, it will fail. It will fail to breed repetition, expand your digital footprint, nor will it scale to facilitate social media.

To impact the market today, digital content must be fluid, evolutionary, mutually reinforcing, measured for response, and refined for improvement.  And then, repeated.  It must be architected and orchestrated, search optimized, published and curated methodically, blogged, tweeted, and repurposed until the cows come home.  As a program, it must communicate with directly with your target audience personas needs through a series of compelling messages, targeted to address each phase of the buying cycle.  At all times it must communicate to your customer the strength of the company’s vision and position the business as an leader. Just like a good salesperson engages with a prospect, digital marketing must now accomplish this before a prospect will engage with sales.